Yankees at Spring Training – The Infield (and the Catchers)

On the face of it, the Yankees’ infield is the most settled area of their squad. But in reality, there still remains some questions to be answered with not long to go in Spring Training.

What is decided?

  • Mark Teixeira is having an unusually strong Spring which bodes well for April. He is, however, normally a slow starter but either way, he will be the at first base come opening day.
  • Robinson Cano is having a quieter Spring than Teixeira but is also guaranteed to be in the infield in April. He is, perhaps, the best defensive second baseman in the American League and his batting stats, last year, were outstanding.
  • Alex Rodriguez is second only to 29-year old Jorge Vazquez amongst batting average figures amongst those Yankees who have played a reasonable amount of time in the Spring. Rodriguez is showing no problems with his hip and there’s hope for a substantial improvement on the early part of last year.
  • Derek Jeter. It seems to be strange to say that Jeter has much to prove but he does. Last year was his weakest offensive season of his long, glorious and storied career. Not weak but his weakest. He wants to restore his stats to the level of earlier years and if he has it in him, this could be a good year for the Yankees because of him.

Where are their question marks?

1. Catcher

Russell Martin has a record of downtime because of injuries but unless his health problems rear their ugly head again, then he will be the everyday catcher. The questions come if he does get injured and anyone handling the tools of ignorance is susceptible to that possibility.

If that should happen then prior to Spring Training, Francisco Cervelli had a slight lead as the likely substitute and regular back up. However, a broken bone in his foot has put paid to that plan. So who will be the catcher on the bench who will be called upon if Martin should be hurt? Well, the Yankees are clearly showing that Jorge Posada is not an option and if Posada is too old then everybody else may be a little too young, a little too experienced. The choice lies between Jesus Montero and Austin Romine. Both are struggling at the plate this Spring, neither have a single day of major league experience – and Romine is stronger defensively – but it is Montero who has the Triple-A experience.

Last year, Nick Johnson was my pick for player most likely to go to the disabled list. This year, Martin is much less likely to head that way but he is still the most likely. With both candidates for the backup job near the Mendoza line, the Yankees should be worried.

2. Bench

The Yankees are likely to carry two infielders on the bench. For my money, the Yankees are missing a possibility by sending Kevin Russo to Scranton. Russo should have been given greater consideration because he can play both third base and leftfield well. For the corner positions, Eric Chavez is a strong option but he is day-to-day at the moment and his batting average in Tampa has been low.

For the central positions of second base and shortstop, Eduardo Nunez and Ramiro Pena went in to the Grapefruit league period neck-and-neck. Pena has been the incumbent for most of the last two seasons but Nunez was more impressive the longer the season went on in 2010. Add to this that Nunez has had by far the stronger Spring and you begin to pencil him into your roster card. But what will the Yankees do with Pena? If Chavez is not healthy or continues to struggle at the plate then don’t be surprised if Pena is carried to cover third base.

Outside possibility: The Yankees think their need for a bat off the bench is greater than their need for late innings defence. In that mode, the Yankees would go for the aforementioned Jorge Vazquez who hits for average and power but is the weakest of the candidates defensively.

So my prediction is that the Yankees will carry 8 infielders (including the catchers in that count) and that they are most likely to be:

   Mark Teixeira
  Robinson Cano
   Derek Jeter
  Alex Rodriguez
   Russell Martin
  Austin Romine
  Eduardo Nunez
  Ramiro Pena

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